Legacy Cabinets Grapples with Meteoric Growth
This Alabama-based manufacturer is on the verge of cracking $20 million in sales in only its fourth full year of business.
BY RICH CHRISTIANSON
"Frankly, we would have been very happy just to reach our $10 million goal," said Rodney Suggs, president of Legacy Cabinets. "Not in our wildest dreams could we have imagined that we would have grown this fast. It seems that we just kept working and working, and when we looked up we found ourselves well above where we hoped to be."
While the principals of Legacy Cabinets are clearly enjoying the view, they know this is not the time to rest on their laurels. Management's most pressing challenge is sustaining the momentum that has brought the company so far, so fast. Complicating matters is the fact that the company is pretty much maxed out of manufacturing space despite having nearly doubled the size of its facility last year. In addition, Legacy's owners are wary of overextending their finances on capital investment in the event of an economic downturn.
"The recent interest rate cuts by the Fed look good, but who knows? We know this (boon) can't last forever," Suggs said. "Our plan is to proceed with caution, prioritize future equipment purchases that will help improve our efficiency and try to better manage our growth."
A 'Rough Start'
"The first two years were tough," Suggs said, noting cashflow and training inexperienced people to be woodworkers among the problems the newborn company had to overcome. He added, "Being a new company, we had to prove that we were capable of consistently meeting tight delivery schedules. This is an extremely competitive business. When you grow as fast as we have, there is constant pressure to keep up with orders. Plus, we have to be flexible to accept changes, such as size adjustments, at late stages. If we don't do it, we will lose business to someone else who can. Fortunately, we have been able to keep up the pace so far by expanding the plant and adding new equipment."
One early misstep that Legacy's owners adeptly recovered from was the decision to produce European-style frameless cabinets. "Our original plan was to produce our white melamine cabinets as frameless and our wood line with face frames," Suggs said. "Because many of our employees were new to the industry, and because we didn't have much experience building frameless cabinets, things got overly complicated and confusing in terms of manufacturing and production scheduling."
Suggs said Legacy abandoned frameless construction after about two months. Ever since, the company's white European-style cabinets sport a face frame and concealed hinges behind a full overlay door. "We basically fell back to what we knew how to do best, which is face frame cabinets, featuring glue and staple construction," Suggs said.
"It hasn't always been easy, but we are trying to stay very focused," Suggs said. "Buying solid wood cabinet doors from several sources has been integral to our expansion. It would have been difficult to get to where we are without having good partner suppliers. By outsourcing doors and other wood components we have been able to concentrate on doing what we do better."
For example, Suggs said purchasing value-added wood components eliminated the need to have a rough mill and allowed the company to focus on improving other areas of its operations, such as finishing and panel processing.
Last year, Legacy Cabinets added 60,000 square feet of space to house a new overhead finishing line. The line, featuring spray booths, drying ovens and high-pressure low-volume spray guns from DeVilbiss was engineered by Raypaul of Marietta, GA. The new continuous finishing line applies three coats of sealer, stain and topcoat to wood doors, drawer fronts and frames.
The system represents a tremendous improvement to the company's former finishing method that involved running parts three times around the same line to fully finish each workpiece. "At the time we didn't have another choice because we didn't have the space," Suggs said.
The recent purchase of a Sorbini UV flat line system from Stiles Machinery has also helped improve the company's finishing capabilities. The UV system is used to pre-stain all flat parts such as shelving and plywood sides.
Legacy's most recent purchase was a Northwood CNC router with two heads and independent tool changers. The twin-table router is mainly dedicated to machining MDF used to manufacture thermofoil doors. The one-piece doors are pressed on a Wemhoner membrane press.
"Prior to buying the Northwood router, we routed the doors on a Biesse Rover 335 point-to-point machining center," Suggs said. "As our volume grew, it became necessary to have a machine just for routing doors. The router has freed up the Biesse to be used more for drilling holes and routing other shaped parts."
A Selco panel saw feeds the CNC router and boring machine with a steady stream of cut-to-size parts. And while the company purchases its solid wood doors and drawer fronts, it does have a Dodds dovetail machine for making dovetailed drawer boxes.
Legacy Cabinets' space crunch is aptly illustrated by its shipping department. "When we added more truck bays last December (giving the company 21), we thought that would last us several years. Already, that's not enough," Suggs said in noting that the company ships about 900 cabinets a day.
Space constraints dominate long-range planning meetings, Suggs said. Legacy Cabinets owns 15 acres of land and could conceivably purchase adjoining property. At the company's current rate of growth, it does not seem to be a matter of if, but when Legacy will buy room to grow.
"Expansion and reorganization seem to be a never-ending battle," Suggs said. "Right now we are looking at the possibility of adding another 50,000 square feet of manufacturing space."
Suggs added that the company is investigating adding a second assembly line and that an automatic dowel insertion machine and an edgebander rank high on the company's wish list.
No doubt Legacy Cabinets will need these and other new machines to achieve its new goal of $35 million in annual sales by 2003.
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